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Could Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels? New Catalyst Will Help

Jul 16, 2014 04:05 PM EDT

Researchers have developed a new and inexpensive way to craft hydrogen fuel on an industrial level without a need for methane. Researcher say that this a huge step towards making hydrogen a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

Hydrogen fuel has always been seen as a promising alternative to fossil fuels because it burns clean, having no negative impact on the environment. In-fact, the process that makes it - an electrolysis reaction that splits hydrogen and oxygen from water molecules - puts clean oxygen straight back into the air.

However, there has always been one huge problem with hydrogen. To cause those necessary electrolysis reactions on a economic and industrial scale, you need to use a lot of methane, which is a fossil fuel itself.

Depending on a fossil fuel to make a "green" fuel defeats the purpose of the entire process.

Past research has found other viable methods for hydrogen production. Platinum, for instance, can be a powerful catalyst for electrolysis that is environmentally friendly. However, using platinum is not exactly cost effective. Imagine having to sell one million copies of a music album before filling up your gas tank. That certainly doesn't sound practical, and neither is platinum.

Still, things might not be that way for long. Researchers at Rutgers University recently declared that they had developed a novel catalyst for electrolysis that was environmentally friendly and cost effective.

"Hydrogen has long been expected to play a vital role in our future energy landscapes by mitigating, if not completely eliminating, our reliance on fossil fuels," chemist Tewodros Asefa said in a recent statement. "We have developed a sustainable chemical catalyst that, we hope with the right industry partner, can bring this vision to life."

According to Asefa, the new catalyst is based around the use of carbon nanotube technology - a hot new material that is being used in a number of remarkable applications.

In a study recently published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Asefa and his colleagues call their catalyst "noble metal-free nitrogen-rich carbon nanotubes," and claim that this relatively inexpensive synthetic material can "catalyze the hydrogen evolution reaction with activities close to that of platinum" in even highly acidic or basic conditions.

They reportedly have great hope for this catalyst, having already filed for a patent and made calls for industrial partners. It remains to be seen however, if and when this technology will be commercialized.

The study was published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition on July 15.

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